That Old Ford Truck

An essay about the meaning in the tools we use to play and work in the outdoors.

By on February 16, 2018 | Comments

My Dad used to drive an old, brown, Ford pick-up truck. If my memory serves me right, he bought it from one of his missionary friends. I’m not sure if he got it more because he needed it or because his buddy needed/wanted to sell it. Perhaps it was a bit of both. Either way, the truck was nothing fancy. It had a giant gearshift and a topper with a wonky door. But, of all the vehicles that my Dad owned, that old truck brings back the warmest memories.

A lot of folks probably wouldn’t have taken a chance on a truck like that. They would have bought something newer. Something with automatic windows and a shiny coat of paint. But that thing had charm. We would ride around all over the place, just my Dad and I. Then one day, someone made my Dad a magnetic Sanford and Son sign for it. I remember working up at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house when my Dad whipped out that sign and slapped it on the side of the truck. I can still almost hear the laughter that erupted from my Aunt Cindy and Grandma Miller when they saw it.

My Dad’s brother Gene had a similar truck. I remember looking at it in our driveway one day, examining the worn bed. There were so many dents in that thing that it looked like someone had went at it with a sand blaster filled with pool balls. It was really quite remarkable. Additionally, the side walls of the bed had wooden extensions to make for a larger loading area. And if that weren’t enough, I’m pretty sure Uncle Gene had installed a hydraulic lift to turn it into a make-shift dump truck. It was quite the specimen. Some would have thought the next place to park it should be the town dump, but something else tells me that would have been easier said than done.

For my uncle, parting with that truck might have been like bidding goodbye to an old friend. You see, this truck was also full of charm. My Uncle knew how many cord of wood that truck would hold if he stacked her full. It also had a door handle that was jerry-rigged with a vice grips, a quirk he used to make a “you might be a redneck if…” joke. Where other people probably saw imperfections, he likely saw utility, faithfulness, and fond memories. I’m not sure if my Uncle runs that old truck anymore. I know for certain my Dad doesn’t have the old brown Ford. But regardless, I imagine that both of them would find those vehicles hard to match.

Now, I’ve never owned an old Ford pick-up and I’m yet to haul enough wood in the bed of my Toyota Tacoma to leave it as worn as my Uncle’s, but I love using things to the bitter end. For most of my running career, it’s been my shoes. In college, I would wear shoes to death. I’d be the guy at practice with holes in the upper and barely any tread left on the bottom. Forget what the running stores said about putting X amount of miles on shoes, I wore those suckers until I said they were done. By the time I was through with a pair, the only donation bin suitable for them was the one that sent them straight to the rubber chipper.

Not only was I hard on my own shoes, but I was also hard on those of my teammates. No, I wouldn’t steal them. I simply figured out that other guys on the team would retire their shoes sooner than I would have. Hence, I would root through my buddies’ old shoes, pick out the ones in my size that I thought still had life, and give them another go. Even when I got sponsored, I still wore my shoes to death. I remember staying with my buddy Chris Vargo ahead of the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and having him get a real kick out of my worn out shoes. So much so that he took a picture of them and posted it on the internet, saying something like “You’d never know Zach Miller is sponsored by Nike and can get new shoes whenever he wants.” He then gave me a pair of his own and my old ones went to Nike headquarters. I suppose they were entertained by them.

Over the years, I have continued trashing shoes. I like to think that doing so helps to keep my feet strong. In my mind, it’s like a gradual progression to minimalist running. I start out with a fresh pair of kicks and hundreds (maybe thousands) of miles later I’m left with tattered shoes and strong feet. But, it’s about more than just foot strength. It’s a desire to use something in full. To use it until it’s done, and not replace it just because I can. I figure that if I could make things last so long in college when shoes weren’t free, I can continue to do so today. Save some space in the landfill. Leave a smaller footprint. Do more. Waste less. Something like that. Perhaps that’s foolish and one day I’ll regret my choices and/or change my ways, but for now, that’s how I roll.

And yet it’s about more than just using less. It’s about writing a story, making a memory. Those old pick-up trucks weren’t great just because of their age. They were great because they were filled with stories. In a way, this is the worst thing about being a sponsored athlete. Now, hear me out, I don’t want to sound conceited or ungrateful. I love having the opportunity to represent the companies that I work with. I also really enjoy getting to use so many great products and being so well taken care of. But, at the same time, I kind of wish I had less. Allow me to explain.

Last year in Chamonix, France, I went for a run with David Laney and Ryan Ghelfi. We ran in the morning because early to bed and early to rise is how Laney rolls. When I showed up that day, I found Laney wearing a worn and tattered salmon-colored shirt. Now we’re not just talking last year’s model. Forget Laney’s Nike sponsorship, this thing wasn’t even made of technical fabric. It was just some cotton t-shirt that he wore back in high school. The holes were so big and abundant that it could have been mistaken for a fish net (or someone’s trendy 100-mile singlet). In fact, it looked like it could have been the only shirt he ran in since high school. To tell you the truth, I thought it was awesome. Here was a sponsored runner with access to some of the nicest running apparel on the market, and yet he’s running around Chamonix, France in his old standby shirt from high school. What a baller.

A baller not just because he has the guts to buck the status quo, but because he’s writing a story on the tatters of that shirt. That’s what I long to do with my gear. I like having an old faithful. Something that goes with me for hundreds, maybe thousands, of training runs. Something that has seen heat, cold, sun, rain, snow, hail, and wind. Something that doesn’t have just a few sentences to its name, but pages, chapters, and even sequels.

Back in high school, I used to run road races in this basic grey tank. It wasn’t really a racing singlet, just some shirt that I liked racing in. It wasn’t flashy, but it was my race shirt. It was faithful. Nowadays I get a new race kit every year. I have a pack/hydration vest for just about every imaginable running situation. I have jackets for pretty much every weather condition. I have headlamps, hand lights, and clip-on lights. I have bottles, bladders, and soft flasks galore. I have high-cushion shoes, lightweight shoes, and in-between shoes. I have thin shirts and thick shirts, long shorts and short shorts, and way more running hats and BUFFS than I have heads. I have market items and prototypes. It’s all really nice and very useful, but if I’m honest, sometimes I think about giving away a lot of it and keeping a few standby items to be used over and over and over again.

After all, how do you ever finish a story when the topic is constantly changing? And yet, maybe I’m missing the point here. Maybe the story isn’t even in the gear (or the truck). Perhaps it doesn’t matter if things are new or old. Maybe the gear is just the gear, and what matters is what we do with it. Sure, those trucks were cool because of their history, but what made them great was what they enabled us to do; the people we could help and the time we could share doing the helping. The same is true with the running gear. It equips us to train and explore and do all of the stuff that actually matters. At the end of the day, it doesn’t make much difference if the pack is new or old, if the shoes are wearing out or just breaking in, or if the shirt is oh so fresh or gaping with holes. All that really matters is what you did with it.

So, next time you set out on an adventure, don’t worry so much about the gear. Instead, pay more mind to the things money can’t buy. Soak up the sunrises and take in the sunsets. Have good conversations with friends. Share snacks and help strangers. Run hard and laugh loud. Tell old stories and write new ones. For at the end of the day, that old brown pick-up is just a fading vehicle to an everlasting memory.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What pieces of gear or tools do you have extra relationships with because of how long you’ve had them and the stories they represent?
  • What kinds of gear do you like to use completely? Shoes you’ll run in until the uppers rip open? A pack you won’t give up because no better ones have yet been developed? An old insulating layer that does the job better than anything on the market today?
Zach Miller
Zach Miller lives in a school bus he outfitted himself. He competes for The North Face and Team Colorado. Additional sponsors/supporters include Clean-N-Jerky, GU Energy Labs, and Nathan Sports. Follow him on Instagram.